Freedom & Family: Why Dr. Eicher Loves Being a Full-time Locum Tenens Hospitalist
Growing up, Dr. Eicher always loved the sciences. Astronomy, zoology, botany… you name it. But he also wanted to help people in any way he could. In high school, he realized that a career in medicine would be a terrific way to utilize his strength in science, stay involved in the community, and improve people’s lives. So, he made the decision to pursue pre-med.
Today, Dr. Eicher is a full-time locum tenens hospitalist. He accepts temporary assignments through Interim Physicians and fills critical hospital staffing gaps across the state of Pennsylvania. As his locums partner, we can attest that his contributions to medicine have made a resounding impact on patient care.
From Farmlands to Philly
Dr. Eicher’s medical journey began traditionally — he finished college on the pre-med track, and then got accepted to Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. Moving to the city was a huge change from his roots.
“This was such an interesting transition for me since I grew up in rural Pennsylvania,” he says. “I was always surrounded by farmland and forests. It was kind of a big step to leave my very blue collar and down-to-earth setting for the big city of Philadelphia without knowing anyone. But I quickly found my groove and I loved it.”
After his first year of med school, Dr. Eicher and his longtime girlfriend married. Upon graduation, they wanted to return to their roots in Central Pennsylvania to start their family, so he explored family practice residencies back home. Dr. Eicher was accepted at a hospital in Altoona (now UPMC Altoona) where he completed three years of residency.
“That family practice was very interesting,” he laughs. “It was a large hospital with lots of specialists that served many smaller hospitals in central Pennsylvania. This means our caseload was heavily in-patient, but we also had outpatient clinics, and of course OB. I got lots of hospital work and I really started to enjoy that more than outpatient.”
Homing in on Hospitalist Medicine
Post-residency, Dr. Eicher and his wife were firmly settled in the area with a young child, so he joined a local family practice with three other physicians. All four cared for their patients in and out of the hospital. Dr. Eicher pulled long days (often until 10 pm) in addition to working one weekend a month. After one of the practice partners left, they were down to just three docs with the same caseload. Dr. Eicher started splitting his time equally between family medicine and hospitalist medicine. Then, he decided to make the leap and work at a local hospital that needed a full-time hospitalist.
“I did enjoy the schedule at the hospital, but administration eventually sucked the joy out of even that situation,” Dr. Eicher lamented. “I found myself wasting hours in meetings and committees that could be spent on direct patient care. I went into medicine because I like science and I like taking care of people. The best part of my job is having a patient walk in with symptoms and then asking the right exam questions to figure out what tests they need to treat them and lead to a successful recovery. It’s like a puzzle. That’s the part I’ve always loved about medicine and the part I still love today. I was trained to put the patient first, and I couldn’t do that if I was sitting in meetings all the time.”
In addition to the administrative burden, the hours were a strain on Dr. Eicher and his now family of five. He recalls a planned family beach trip where he had some admissions at day’s end, so he told his kids they would stop by the hospital briefly en route to the beach to finish up—it would only take 30 minutes. Unfortunately, he kept getting held up. A half-hour turned into three hours. And his children have never let him live it down.
“I was so frustrated! I thought to myself there must be something out there where I can balance my family, do what I love, and still make a living. That’s when I first looked into locums work. And I haven’t looked back since,” he grins. “I absolutely love my lifestyle. I tell all of my physician friends that you can sum up locums with one word: freedom.”
The Locum Tenens Trifecta: Freedom, Flexibility & Family
Dr. Eicher first heard of locum tenens 13 years after he’d been working in the hospital environment. Then, he found out that one of the shifts on the schedule was covered by a variety of locum providers. Those hospitalists would work full-time at a different hospital and then moonlight at Dr. Eicher’s facility for extra spending money. Shortly after, he also learned of a few locum tenens providers who worked from the fall to spring and took entire summers off.
“I started to recognize the freedom and flexibility of being able to choose your schedule and practice when you want to. And it’s not just freedom of schedule. There’s the freedom to not sit on a bunch of committees, freedom from administrative meetings, and the freedom to escape from all the parts of medicine that physicians aren’t interested in. With locums, you get to focus on what you do best, caring for patients.”
One of the hospitalists happened to reach out to Dr. Eicher and asked if he’d ever thought about doing locum work. (That answer was yes, a lot actually!) So, he took his first locum assignment in a hospital about an hour north where he’d work 7 on and 7 off, enjoying newfound time with his family.
Everything was great except for one problem – Dr. Eicher had countless staffing companies reaching out with locum tenens opportunities. His inbox was flooded.
We’re grateful that Interim stood out from the masses with an excellent fit at a hospital in Philadelphia (close to his med school roots). And the rest is history. For the last five years, we’ve found Dr. Eicher consistent assignments in Philadelphia, Erie, and a other hospitals across Pennsylvania.
“All of my assignments with Interim have been great matches. I just can’t tell you enough how happy I am to be a locum physician,” he says. “It’s helped me be a better dad and husband. My daughter pitched softball, so I got to be there to warm her up and see so many of her games. My other daughter is a singer. I can’t remember how many times I used to walk in on the very last song of her performance. With locums, I never miss out. In fact, I’m a musician as well and there’s a praise band at our church. Locums lets me lead it. I have such fond memories of singing and playing guitar on stage with my daughter. My son and youngest daughter have stayed with me during some of my assignments since they attend school online. These memories never ever could have happened without locums.”
Acting as Your Advocate
Dr. Eicher believes that the right agency will advocate for you; he’s found that at Interim. If his family is accompanying him on assignment, we always accommodate them and factor them in during hotel bookings. And on the rare occasion Dr. Eicher had to call out sick, his recruiter told him not to worry. She provided a replacement physician so his illness didn’t impact his assignment and he could focus on feeling better.
“I’ve heard horror stories of locum physicians at other agencies not getting paid, arriving at a rural assignment and finding out they don’t have any place to stay, and even some being forced to go to work with COVID-19,” he shakes his head. “Never at Interim. Everything has always gone perfectly, and that’s because Interim takes the time to get to know you and what’s important to you. I absolutely have a gem here.”
One of Dr. Eicher’s favorite parts of working with Interim is his recruiter, Jackie Byrd. Over the last five years, they have developed an excellent relationship.
“Jackie is always professional and amazingly prompt; it’s as if she’s always working. She answers in a split second, and she just knows me. There are times we’re having a conversation, I’m typing out a question, and she answers it before I even have a chance to send it – that’s how good she is,” he laughs.
“Since I’m getting older, I don’t do procedures anymore. Jackie knows and respects that. It doesn’t matter what your situation is, I guarantee there’s an assignment for you and the right recruiter will find it. In the end, my advice to any frustrated physician is to go locums. Get your autonomy back. Get your family back. It’s the best thing I ever did.”